Join Tim Grey for an in-depth discussion in this video The case for not feathering selections, part of Photoshop CS6 Selections and Layer Masking Workshop.
When I'm talking about Selections and Layer Masking, I often repeat the refrain that I never Feather selections. And yet, I pretty much always want the effect of a feathered selection. It seems a little bit contradictory, but it actually makes perfect sense. Let me show you first, what the effect of feathering a selection is. I'll go ahead and click the box to the left of the thumbnail for that White layer, to make it visible, just so that we can work in clean environment here. I'll go ahead and then create a selection. I'm just going to use the rectangular Marquis tool, and I've got the Feather setting at 0 pixels. I'll go ahead and create a selection, just a rectangular selection here on the image.
And then I'm going to choose Edit> Fill from the menu. I'll set my Use popup to black and click OK. I'll then choose Select > Deselect from the menu and I'm going to now set my feathering to 25 pixels. I'll then click and drag to draw another selection and you'll notice that the selection looks mostly the same except that the corners look a little bit curved. And that's because feathering is being applied. And that means that there's actually a fuzzy edge to my selection. The marching ants display, the animated line that shows the boundary of my selection, is actually showing me the boundary between areas that are less than or greater than 50% selected. I'll go ahead and choose Edit > Fill, once again, to make this even more obvious.
I'll fill this selection with black, and you can see now as I deselect that select, that because I feathered the selection, we have a significant difference between the two. The first square, with no feathering has a very crisp edge. And the second square, with a significant amount of feathering, has a very soft edge. Well generally when we're using a Layer mask, especially in context of a targeted adjustment. We certainly want some trasition between the area being adjusted, and the are that we're not adjusting. Well if we always want to have a little bit of a smooth trasition. That would suggest that we always want to feather our selections. And that's sort of true.
So why don't I feather selections? It's simple, when I need to feather initially, I don't know how much to feather by. Let's take a look at an example. I'll go ahead and create a selection of the sky here. I'll use the Magic Wand tool. Now, the Magic Wand tool doesn't actually have a feather setting so, we're going to have an unfeathered selection by default. I'll go ahead and click in the Sky with the Magic Wand tool, and then Shift click in a few additional areas of the sky until I have the entire sky selected. That looks to be a pretty good selection of the sky. So, now, if I were to apply an adjustment that only affects the sky. I would want to have some transition between the sky and the church, but how much? I'm not really sure. I can choose Select > Modify > Feather From the menu and I can specify how many pixels I want to feather by, but I'm not sure exactly how many pixels I want to feather by.
I think maybe just one or two pixels, but maybe I need a little bit more, or less. Maybe I don't need to feather at all. The point is that unless I have a lot of experience with a wide variety of images at different resolutions, I can't always anticipate exactly how much feathering I want to apply. And so I don't feather selections ever. Well, except to demonstrate why I don't feather selections. If I were to feather the selection, let's say I think five is okay I'll go ahead and click OK. And now if I apply a targeted adjustment, I'll go ahead and take a look at the result.
And if I zoom in you can see that the transition is far too fuzzy. That was too much feathering. Well, now I have to undo that last step and undo the step before that, and undo the feathering of that selection. So that I can try again with a different feathering amount. But actually it can be much, much easier at the moment this selection is not feathered. It I add an adjustment based on that selection I can again apply a targeted adjustment but I can apply feathering after the fact.
I can go to my Masks panel. I'll go ahead and zoom in so that we can see the effect a little bit more clearly. And I can adjust the degree of feathering based on the actual effect in the image. I can see when it's too much and when it's not enough, and I can also decide when it's just right. So that's the real reason I don't feather selections. It's not that I don't want the effect of a feathered selection, it's that I want to wait until a little bit later in my workflow so that I can see the actual effect in the image. So my suggestion is to never feather your selection and instead use that selection as the basis of a layer mask and fine tune the layer mask so you can actually see the real effect while you're working.
- Anti-aliasing and selections
- The case for not feathering selections
- Adding, subtracting, and intersecting
- Inverting a selection
- Mixing and matching selection tools
- Advanced selection techniques
- Creating composite images
- Applying targeted adjustments